By April Lavalle
By the end of 2016, it looked like Luke Harper, one of Bray Wyatt’s criminally underutilized cronies, was finally getting the push he rightly deserved. Harper has made a slow and steady climb since debuting in NXT in 2012, yet this summer, he completely vanished from our televisions just as he was reaching the apex of popularity amongst fans. So what happened? Let’s take a look…
After being sidelined for several months due to an injury, Harper returned at No Mercy last year alongside fellow Bray Wyatt-devotee Erick Rowan, and the revived Wyatt family quickly set their sights on Randy Orton. By TLC in December 2016, Orton appeared to be beaten and brainwashed, and was officially a sanctioned Wyatt Family member—thanks in part to Harper distracting Orton so Wyatt could defeat him. But after that, things started to change for Harper. His character started distancing himself from Bray, and began to see the Wyatt Family for what they really are— a cult. In early January 2017 things came to a head when Harper accidentally superkicked Bray and got into a subsequent shoving match, indicating Harper’s new status as a face and enemy to the Wyatt family.
This was solidified by the end of January 2017 when Harper teamed up with John Cena to fight Bray Wyatt and his then-disciple, Orton (who at that point was still brainwashed by Bray thanks to some weird, black magic f—ery). With the fans finally getting behind him, it would seem that teaming up with Cena indicated big things for Harper, but instead, everything came to a screeching halt.
Although Cena and Harper had great matches as partners, WWE didn’t seem to have much faith in Harper as a singles wrestler. Any hope of Harper making it over that hump and becoming a serious contender was squashed when he lost the Royal Rumble and the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania. Before Mania, Harper and Styles tied in a battle royal to claim Orton’s number one contender slot, as Randy refused to wrestle Bray. Harper went on to lose to Styles in their singles match (sigh, remember when Smackdown was good?). Rowan and Harper fought over their allegiance to the Wyatt family for a little while after this, and at Backlash on May 21, 2017, Harper wrestled and defeated Rowan, thus ending their rivalry. Harper has not been on TV ever since.
There is no clear reason why Harper has been missing; no controversy, injury, or punishment justifying his notable absence. There were certainly places for him to fit on Smackdown, despite their very uneven face-to-heel ratio. Harper vs. Baron Corbin would been an obvious matchup, seeing that these two both seemed to be on the verge of a push. This would have been a great opportunity give both men a solid mid-card storyline and foundation that could have launched them into bigger and more exciting matches.
But still, Harper is missing. Here are some possible theories as to why:
1. Although the WWE can change details on a dime, “big picture” storylines are often thought out months in advance. Perhaps creative did not foresee Harper’s rising star, and didn’t think it worth it to shift their plans to accommodate him. This probably would have meant nixing Jinder Mahal stealing Orton’s title at in Backlash in May, and having Harper and Orton feud instead— something that would have been easy to justify if the WWE just kept Orton as part of the Wyatt family for a bit longer. The WWE failed to pull the trigger on Harper when they needed to, so instead of taking a risk on him, they pumped the breaks. Still, it will be hard for the WWE to regain their footing with Harper: it took months for him to earn the interest of fans, and now they are back at square one.
2. Perhaps Harper is off television because he is being rebranded to separate himself from The Wyatt Family in hopes of giving him more of an identity. That’s just me being optimistic though. Plus, it would be foolish to undo Harper’s storyline. Escaping a cult is pretty good fodder for character development.
3. He is in the woods somewhere plotting revenge.
There are rumors that Luke Harper and Erick Rowan are the two attacking Breezango, but that would not really make sense given Harper’s face status, or the fact that the last time these two were seen, they were kicking the shit out of each other. But hey, continuity and justifications aren’t WWE’s strong suit.
Basically, the Luke Harper situation is a symptom of WWE’s bigger problem: not listening to fans. While they still push people that fan’s have no interest in or are burnt out on, wrestlers with huge fan followings like Sami Zayn, Emma, and Rusev are frustratingly put on the back burner. Harper has the potential to be a champion, and, yes, sell a ton of merchandise, but until WWE sees that, this hillbilly turned hero will be designated to dark matches and house shows.